Yesterday I clocked in for my EMS shift. It started out and progressed just like any other shift that I’ve worked. I checked off my truck and drank my coffee as my partner and I caught up on events since he’s been back from his recent honeymoon. It didn’t take long for the calls to start coming in, a storm that all of us working yesterday expected but also dreaded. We were short staffed, which has been the norm lately. The saying in EMS that is most often used is “adapt and overcome.” And we did. The public who call 911 for their emergencies and the hospitals, clinics and nursing homes who contract for transport don’t care how many trucks are running. The calls came in, the doors went up and the trucks went out.
As far as shifts for me go, it was fairly average. In 24 hours I made seven runs, which is about my average. Three were 911 calls where the mantra was oxygen, Albuterol and saline locks for everyone. The rest of the day was filled with transfers, hospital discharges mostly. My last call was a transfer from one of our hospitals to a hospital in Jackson where the patient could receive a specialty that was not available here last night. As it turns out, this particular transfer would be my final call. We got back to the station at about 11:00 PM and, thankfully, slept the rest of the night. Well, “slept.” One does not actually get much rest when working a 24 hour shift. Instead, you just close your eyes and try to get some relaxation as you also stay alert enough to hear the truck number called out.
When the wake up call went out, I vacuumed the day room and helped empty the trash. After I cleaned my truck and replaced monitor batteries and an oxygen bottle, I cleaned out my locker. Thankfully I did not have much in there besides some miscellaneous things. I mostly used it to hold a 12 pack of sodas, my traffic vest, cap and stethoscope. I turned in my traffic vest, as it was issued equipment and had to be returned upon resigning. I put my scope in my backpack and at the stroke of 0700, I clocked out for the last time and carried my sleeping bag, backpack and laptop (which I did not even have time to use yesterday) to my truck.
And thus ended my career as a full time paramedic.
It feels strange to say that. I have been in EMS since 2009 when I first became an EMT and began working at a hospital based service. A year later, I began paramedic school and I fell in love. I loved learning about medicine, what the different drugs did and how to really help people who were experiencing all sorts of emergencies. Soon after I obtained my paramedic certification I began working at the service I left today, a county owned third service. The variety of any given day was a challenge but one that I enjoyed… Most of the time. But overall, working at Metro was a blessing. I was able to work a schedule that allowed me to answer the calling to pastoral ministry that I finally decided to stop fighting. My leaving today is a step in the plan to more fully answer that call by attending seminary in Kentucky and transitioning toward a higher emphasis on ministry.
Although I left the field today in order to pursue what God has called me to do, I began to realize that even if God had not called me to the pulpit that I soon would have had to figure out an exit strategy. If I’m going to be honest with myself, I have to confess that I have become what I hoped I never would: A burned out medic. Witnessing system abuse, messed up sleep patterns, the violence and the other things that one witnesses while working in EMS had begun to take its toll. One of my crew chiefs told me that I had not been doing it long enough to become burned out. I read a statistic recently that says that the average career expectancy of an EMT is five years. As I have been in the field for seven years, I am already above average.
Seven years. Other than my years in radio, this is the longest that I’ve been in one career field. During that seven years I have seen things that will haunt me forever, things that I will never talk about. There are things that I have seen that my wife does not even know about and never will. I have been in situations where I truly wondered if I was going to make it out alive. I have seen mothers and fathers lose their children. I have met some of the worst people imaginable. I have seen the effects of drug and alcohol addiction. I have seen the ravages of mental illness. I have seen how depraved some people can be, things that would make one lose all hope for humanity.
But it has not been all bad. There are many good things that have happened in seven years. I have made friendships that I hope to have for the rest of my life. I’ve met some truly wonderful people who have touched me in ways that they will never know about. I haven’t saved many lives but I have saved a few. I have been able to administer medication to reverse a drug overdose and keep a family from losing their mother/wife. I have reversed hypoglycemia when a patient’s blood sugar was so low that they were on the brink of death. I have been on the receiving end of a few people telling me “thank you” for helping their loved one in the worst moment of their life.
The best thing is that I discovered an extended family. We aren’t the most functional family but a family none the less. These are people that I have both worked with and who I’ve connected with via social media because of our common bond a EMS providers. These are people who have loved me through some of the worst moments of my life. These are people who have taught me how to be a better medic and a better person. I have grown to love them all and would do anything in my power for them. I will always be grateful for them and I hope they will always be part of my life.
Will I work in EMS again? It will only be on a very part time basis. I am licensed in Kentucky so I may work a shift here and there just to keep up my skills. I worked hard for my patch and I would hate to lose it. But, I know that there will come a day where I will have to let it go. I don’t look forward to that day. However, as I move forward with the call to ministry that God has guided me to, I intend to be available as a chaplain to EMS. Hopefully EMS will not completely leave my life.
May God keep all of my EMS brothers and sisters safe. Know that I am here for you anytime you need someone to talk with or to pray with. When you have that bad call, I will let you talk about it or we can sit in silence. Believe me, I will get that. Sometimes knowing that someone understands what you’re going through is enough.
Onward to seminary.
Jonathan Tullos, NRP